While Don Quixote may have been a bit deluded as he went about tilting at windmills, his tale is ultimately one of perseverance and noble causes.

His quest reminds me of the challenges faced by leaders in the startup community. A recent meeting with a CEO acted as a perfect microcosm of this quest.

There are about 25 people in his firm and he’s been through a series of ups and downs. He has a new version of his offering which will hopefully fundamentally change the company’s position in the marketplace. He’s expecting to go from 25 to over 70 in the next year and a half.

The problem is the same one that many growth companies face. He struggles to hire enough of the people he needs, and he’s losing some of the old guard because they don’t buy into the uncertainty associated with the next phase in his business. They don’t know if the new product is going to succeed, they aren’t 100% confident that the money will be there and they aren’t sure how demanding the ‘ride’ will be on their personal lives.

What’s been missing in his management messaging to present employees, and to his candidate message as he recruits, is the creation of ‘his company’s unique story’ that people will care about, i.e. his noble purpose.

People need the sense that what they’re doing matters. Over the years, businesses have set goals for their people base on SMART metrics, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

They parse roles out into achievable mini-steps to get you to a bigger and better place in the future. In the world of Six Sigma and TQM (Total Quality Management), they do just fine. However, from an engagement standpoint they struggle to grab attention.

People want a noble purpose in what they do, the people they work for and what they’re working towards:

  1. They want to be able to picture how great it will feel to achieve their goals.
  2. They want to learn new skills to help them achieve it.
  3. They want to feel part of creating their goals for the year.
  4. They want to feel that what they’re doing will enrich others (customers, the community, etc.).
  5. They want to feel that what they’re doing is aligned with the company’s top priorities.

Instead of SMART goals this year, consider replacing them with ‘HARD’ goals (Leadership IQ came up with the mnemonic and wrote a book on it): These goals are:

Heartfelt: They exist to serve something bigger than ourselves.

Animated: They’re so vivid that to not reach them would leave us wanting.

Required: These goals are as critical to us as air and water.

Difficult: They’ll test every one of our limits.

I don’t know anyone that feels pumped by completing small incremental movements on the project dial. It’s the fulfilment of big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs) that get teams totally engaged. Here’s an article from Leadership IQ on getting your people emotionally attached to their goals.

Once you know your shared quest, go ahead and set crazy, difficult goals. If you stay true to your vision, you’ll win their hears as well as their minds.